Fans of SK Tremayne’s The Ice Twins will most certainly enjoy Beside Myself by Ann Morgan; though lovers of the mind-twisty psychological stuff will find the latter offers far more insight into the impact our childhood has on later life and how others’ expectations shape who we become.
by Ann Morgan
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
on January 14th 2016
Helen and Ellie are identical twins – like two peas in a pod, everyone says.
The girls know this isn’t true, though: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower.
Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day.
But Ellie refuses to swap back...
And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up. Her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school, the favour of her mother and the future she had dreamed of are all gone to a sister who blossoms in the approval that used to belong to Helen. And as the years pass, she loses not only her memory of that day but also herself – until eventually only ‘Smudge’ is left.
Twenty-five years later, Smudge receives a call from out of the blue. It threatens to pull her back into her sister’s dangerous orbit, but if this is her only chance to face the past, how can she resist?
Although I very much enjoyed this book, it frustrated me because of that whole (sense of justice) thing. I’ve mentioned it again and again… I’m a stickler for what’s ‘right’ and the smug way in which Ellie (later referred to by Helen / Smudge as Hellie) stole her sister’s life without a second glance or any (real) guilt for who her sister became, annoyed the crap out of me. (And yes, I know it’s just fiction and that it’s been written that way for exactly this purpose!)
And that’s a big however…. 6yr old Helen treated Ellie abominably. It wasn’t her fault I realise as they’d already fallen into roles allocated to them by their parents (well, mainly their mother), but nonetheless a brief exchange should have been enough to teach Helen a lesson. But of course, the switch back never occurred and so the formerly-responsible Helen became the daydreamy and silly Ellie.
That in itself was the most fascinating part of this story. Helen is respected by her mother, teachers, elders and friends. When they swap places Helen expects that Hellie will soon fall on her face and her real identity will be obvious. But it doesn’t happen. Hellie blossoms with the heightened expectations and confidence bestowed on her. And the real Helen… struggles. Others’ expectations of her as Ellie are so low that no matter how hard Helen tries she fails to impress. And eventually gives up trying. She becomes a rebel, she acts out and eventually becomes estranged from her family.
Adult Helen is drinking herself into a solitary existence, kept company only by the voices in her head. Almost homeless her one chance of happiness has slipped away and she is no longer sure who she is. She is, she thinks, only a smudge.
This debut novel from Morgan is described as a psychological thriller. I’m not sure about the thriller part as there’s no real suspense as such, but readers are kept on our toes while the story of Helen and Ellie unfolds. However… it’s an excellent psychological drama. PhD thesis material, perhaps!
As a lover of mind-twisting fiction requiring some ponderous consideration I loved this book as it certainly delivers in that respect. It’s well-written and evenly paced but readers will pause to reflect on their own upbringing and the questions of how our behaviour is influenced by those around us; and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the roles others bestow on us.
A thought-provoking read and great debut from freelance writer and editor Morgan.
Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is published by Bloomsbury Publishing.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.